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What is a Scrollsaw?

Douglas Bonderud
Douglas Bonderud

A scrollsaw is an electrically powered saw used to make intricate free-hand cut in wood. Developed in the 1860s, the scrollsaw is considered to be a tool used for decorative wood finishing rather than general carpentry. This saw uses a thin blade, which is typically suspended between two anchored points. This blade then moves up and down in a reciprocating motion.

The scrollsaw is a stationary object, into which wood is fed, by hand, and then manipulated. While it bears similarities to a jigsaw in terms of function, its method of use is quite different. The size of a scrollsaw is measured by its throat, which is the distance from the blade to the rear edge of the saw. Throat sizes can range from 12 inches (30.5cm) to 30 inches (76.2cm).

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Two common designs for scrollsaws are the parallel arm and the c-arm. The parallel arm has two stationary bars running from the back of the device, and the saw blade is attached at their tips. If the saw blade breaks, the top arm will swing up and out of the way, stopping the motion of the saw and preventing injury. A c-arm saw is shaped like a capital letter C, and the blade is mounted between the two ends. The c-saw design will continue to run if the blade breaks and must be shut off manually.

Blades used by the scrollsaw also differ in size, and are used for different applications. Sizes range from one through 12, with larger numbered blades being thicker. Thinner blades are used for glass or jewelry-cutting and can be the thickness of a human hair. A standard scrollsaw blade is five inches (12.7cm) long.

Important characteristics of these saw blades are the number of teeth they contain and how they are positioned. The skip tooth blade, for example, has a tooth, a gap, and then another tooth, all the way along its length. A double skip tooth has two teeth and then a gap. Crown or two-way blades have teeth that face both up and down, so that they can cut on both the up and down strokes.

The scrollsaw is considered to be one of the safer modern power tools in use. Direct contact with the blade will likely not cause serious injury, although precautions — such as the wearing of gloves and protective eye wear — should still be taken. More expensive models of these saws will come with variable speed options, which will allow multiple thicknesses of wood to be cut.

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